Fair Game Review
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Director Doug Liman is best known for his entertaining, high-energy adventures—stuff like The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Even at the lower points in his career (like 2008’s Jumper), he’s managed to produce enjoyably easy-going popcorn flicks. But if you’re expecting more of the same from Liman’s latest film, you’ll definitely be disappointed by the preachy political drama of Fair Game.

Naomi Watts stars as Valerie Plame, a CIA field officer who’s asked to look into Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the aftermath of 9/11. When reports begin to circulate that Iraq may have purchased 500 tons of yellowcake uranium from the government of Niger, Valerie’s husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a former ambassador, is sent to investigate. But even after Joe reports that the sale couldn’t have happened—and Valerie continues to come up empty-handed in her search—the news of Iraq’s infamous weapons of mass destruction spreads.

When the false reports make their way into President Bush’s State of the Union address, Joe decides to speak out, possibly putting his family, his wife’s secret operations, and his marriage in danger.

Though Liman’s earlier films have shown how exciting and action-packed the life of a fictional spy can be, Fair Game shows that the life of a real spy is mostly just a dry, complicated mess of politics and paperwork—and, occasionally, trips to Cleveland. The shootouts and high-speed chases of The Bourne Identity have been replaced with scheming White House staffers and catty, finger-pointing reporters, while the swift and simple plotlines have been replaced with complex set-ups and marital melodrama.

The story lacks both direction and focus. In the beginning, it’s just a confusing blur of dinner parties, rambling CIA meetings, and whirlwind overseas excursions. But even after the film settles into a rather dry account of the couple’s experiences, its point is still unclear.

Is Fair Game an emotional biography? Not really. Though it touches on the strain the experience place on their marriage, the drama seems forced and unnecessary—and often completely out of place.

Is it a political exposé? Not exactly. Since it’s based on books written by Wilson and Plame, it tells just one side of the story—and it can only speculate and suggest what really happened.

Is it a gripping spy thriller? Definitely not. Though Valerie does work with some pretty sensitive situations—which are all compromised after her identity is made known—most of the plot takes place in conference rooms or behind closed doors. There isn’t a whole lot of action—and even the conflict seems rather insignificant. The result, then, feels more like a documentary than a thriller.

Fortunately, Liman’s spy thriller background does make Fair Game more interesting than a political documentary. It’s a stylish film—one that offers a closer look at a government scandal. But I can only hope that, from here on out, Liman will ditch the dry political drama and go back to doing what he does best.

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